Today, Apple CEO Tim Cook dropped a bombshell on the automotive industry. Apple isn’t making a car (yet), but it has been designing and engineering a far more important foundation in the march towards autonomy.
It’s no secret that Silicon Valley is dead set on beating Detroit to the punch on driverless vehicles; that’s why some car companies have put aside their differences to team up, and why other manufacturers have gotten in bed with various Silicon Valley startups and tech giants alike, in a sort of frienemy-relationship to get an edge. Ford recently kicked out Mark Fields as CEO, announced it would strengthen ties with Toyota and invested $1 billion in Pittsburg-based Argo AI — all in the name of taking the autonomous car fight to Tesla and Silicon Valley. But today, in an interview with Bloomberg Apple CEO Tim Cook announced the tech company has been crafting “the mother of all AI projects.” Not necessarily a car — just the software and AI operating system for autonomy.
So while Tesla was busy building physical cars and implementing autonomous software in the form of software updates, and Ford was busy trying to retrofit the technology to its existing product, Apple was saving its energy and resources and simply “focusing on autonomous systems,” Cook explained. “It’s a core technology that we view as very important.” So Apple’s angle for dominating the industry seems to be making an autonomous operating system that, theoretically, any car can run on –ideally, the industry standard, the go-to OS. That way, Apple doesn’t even have to make a car; it can simply sell its autonomous operating system to any willing manufacturer, for the manufacturer to install in its own cars.
Cook knows that Apple can’t compete with the likes of Ford and GM on a manufacturing level, but hasn’t ruled it out, saying: “We’ll see where [this AI system] takes us; we’re not really saying, from a product point of view, what we will do.” So it will be a while before we see an Apple badge on the front of a car, but being chauffeured by a car piloted by Apple may not be that far off. If and when that happens, what will the “Terms and Conditions” look like? And will you read through it all, or just scroll to the bottom and check “Agree”? Probably, but who could blame you.
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